Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


St George and Easter
April 24, 2016, 7:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, on Sunday April 24th, 2016

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There was a delightful picture published yesterday- little Prince George on his rocking-horse, in his pyjamas and dressing-gown because he had been allowed to stay up late to say “Thank you” to Mr and Mrs Obama, who had given it to him when he was born. Yesterday was of course St George’s Day, the Prince’s namesake and our nation’s patron saint. He is usually depicted on a much bigger horse, slaying the dragon. I want to come back to him in a minute, but first a look at today’s Gospel.

These are words of our Lord at the last supper, just after Judas had gone out to betray him, and just before Peter swore he would even lay down his life for Jesus, a promise he would break only a few hours later, swearing that he did not even know Jesus. So this a very poignant moment. At this moment, only Jesus knows that these will be his farewell words to his friends.

First, he speaks of glory: “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified.” The word “glory” translates two difficult words, the Hebrew KaBoD and the Greek doxa. In Exodus, Moses asked God to show him his glory, but God replied, “I will pass before you and will proclaim before you my Name… and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” So Moses saw the glory only, as it were, from behind. In Isaiah, God said, “I am the Lord, that is my Name; my glory I give to no other.” Now Jesus says that God is glorified in the Son.

Like Moses, we see God’s glory as it were from behind- in the wonders of creation, for example, or in the lives of the saints. This is so to speak the “overspill” of God’s own glory, which is revealed supremely in Jesus, of whom St John says, “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father.” Jesus says that this glory will be shown forth in what is about to happen to him, his crucifixion and death. Who would call that glorious, in human terms?

And straightaway he goes on to give his commandment of love: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Glory and love are connected, because just as God’s glory is shown in his love for us, even to the cross, so we reflect that glory by our love for one another. “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

So we come to St George. We know little about him, other than that he was a Roman soldier who became a Christian in Palestine, and was executed just before the year 300 at Joppa (where, as we heard, Peter had first received his call to take the Gospel to the Gentiles two and a half centuries earlier). The rest is legend, but it expresses a truth. Under the Roman Empire, Jews were exempt from military service, but Christians were not (unless they were of Jewish descent). A Roman soldier had to pledge total and undivided loyalty to the Emperor, so when George became a Christian, he refused, because now Christ was his King. Roman imperial ideology was totalitarian: only Caesar, and Caesar’s State, was supreme. That is why the Book of Revelation symbolised the Roman Empire and Caesar its head as a dragon that made war on the followers of Jesus. So you might say that, at one level, the dragon killed St George, just a Pilate crucified Jesus; but at another level, George defeated the dragon because in dying for Christ he shared Christ’s triumph over death itself.

St George

George is a good patron for England, not least because he was not English! The country we live in is only a part of the island of Britain, and the people who live here are a mixed lot: Celts, Saxons, Normans and many other races. We all come from immigrant stock, if you go back far enough, but we all live in this beautiful land. Our Queen (long may she reign!), whose ancestors are every bit as mixed as anyone else’s- Scottish, German, Scandinavian- symbolises the unity in diversity of our nation. We do not, like many other nations, elect our Heads of State- we grow them. Little Prince George is just beginning a long training in how to embody the history and unity of our people, how to embody an idea of kingship as service which reflects the ultimate sovereignty of Christ. In due time, God willing, after his grandfather and father, he will be anointed and consecrated for that responsibility.

We all live in the same land, but what will make us one people is the love for one another that is our Lord’s commandment to us: not a request, not a piece of advice, a command. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Revelation ends with the City of God (which is to say his people) adorned like a bride for her husband. Christianity is a love-story, the story of God’s love for his wayward people, whom he desires only to unite with himself. When God restores the world, there will be no more mourning or crying and pain. No more death, no more disobedience and sin. The old things will have passed away, and Love will make all things new.

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